Recently we were contacted by the terrific folks at Topaz Labs with a request to try out their brand new Topaz Labs Detail™ 3 Plugin for Photoshop. Time is critical for us here at The Hollow and thus any chance we get to try out new software and techniques can be very exciting. Any tool or process that allows us to make better quality images in a shorter amount of time is something we embrace. As of today, I am happy to say that we’ve got a trusty new friend in our post-processing toolkit, one we plan to use exclusively moving forward with all our image post-processing needs. Join us as we share our Topaz Detail Review here at Toad Hollow Photography.
HDR photography has always been our prime passion. We’re able to use it as a technique to really create compelling images that express the actual vision we had of the scene during the shoot. We’re able to reach a little deeper into the shadows and pull back a little in the overblown spots to add a touch more dynamic range than is typically seen in conventional digital photography, and as a result of this the photograph ends up reflecting our personal vision.
As I was planning to evaluate the plugins from Topaz Labs, I had a special scene in mind that I thought would be a perfect first-run test. Let me introduce you to one of my favorite finds of this spring, a rusty, decrepit old Chevrolet pickup truck.
We find that the best forms of art tell a story in a viewing. The folks at Good Used Cars Inc. here in the Cowichan Valley have been around for years and you see a lot of their cars on the highways and byways of the island, roaming freely. This great old truck sitting underneath their sign has been a beacon of dichotomy to me since I saw it a few weeks ago, and I was very much looking forward to exploring the truck and it’s environs, and using these frames as a test for the new Topaz Labs software.
The seasons can be hard on things out here on Vancouver Island, and the weathering and wear we see make for great elements to capture and explore in photography. Bringing these textures and details out is a prime love of ours. The incredible amount of control you have in your post-processing when using Topaz Labs Detail™ 3 is truly second-to-none. Advertised widely as plugins for the Photoshop series of image processing tools, we were thrilled to find that this plugin architecture was also supported in our tool of choice, PaintShop Pro X5 Creative Photo Editor. Installation of the plugin suite was straightforward and easy, and within minutes I found myself exploring the myriad of choices available to the digital artist.
The first steps we take when creating our imagery is to take the RAW bracket files and merge them in Photomatix Pro. Let’s take a look at both the image straight off the camera as well as the tone mapped results from Photomatix to see how things progress before we move into PaintShop Pro and begin to work with the Topaz plugin.
And now, for the final results after working with Topaz Labs Detail™ 3…
The results are astounding!! If you look closely at the tone mapped version, before we begin to work on it in PaintShop Pro, you can see a radical improvement over the RAW frame from the camera. We see into the shadows better, adding depth and dimension to the picture. We also really get a strong impression from the truck body itself, as this is where all the textures and details hidden in the rusty goodness are to be found. And finally we see a much bluer, richer sky. I do not adjust color saturation in the tone mapping phase of work, this happens in the last step in PaintShop Pro.
One of the things I’ve learned in the years I’ve been working with HDR is that the tone mapped results are far from the finished product. The tone mapping process evens the image out, creating a starting point that is full of dynamic range, yet still seems somewhat flat to look at. From here you need to make adjustments to the picture to really get the full expression of the image to sing. Comparisons between the final results and the tone mapped piece are actually quite extraordinary, with the finished work being so detailed and textured, you almost need a tetanus shot after looking at it!
So now let’s talk a little about the process and experience using these great new tools.
When presented with software that is as powerful as the tools from Topaz Labs, I find that you just have to spend some time with them to fully appreciate all you can do with them. The control in the post-processing phase is absolutely phenomenal. The first set of sliders you encounter all pertain to taking full command of the details within your frame. Small, Medium and Large details all have their own controls, both with the value you can set for these elements as well as a Boost value that really accents these changes. I am really excited to use these tools more in the future with differing types of source images to really see how far we can go. I expect to be amazed based on what I’ve seen so far.
The second set of sliders all pertain to Tone in the image. This is another key area we’ve always spent time working on in our own post-processing, as both highlights and shadows are terribly important in an image to really create a sense of depth, scale and definition to the subject being explored. This part of our post-processing work has always been a little tricky, given the limited nature of the built-in effects and tools in PaintShop Pro. Needless to say, the results of playing with the sliders in the Tone section of the plugin produce absolutely jaw-dropping results. You’re really left wondering at times if there isn’t some magic involved here, somehow, but my own 33+ years experience in the software engineering field tells me this is unlikely.
Further categories of tools are found in this great plugin, including Color management, Deblur and Effect Mask. Each of these processes took a minimal of time to explore and become comfortable with, allowing me to focus on the prime task at hand… creating great imagery!
It was a real joy to use this tool as it has definitely been designed with the photographer in mind. Being able to quickly flip back and forth between the Before and After view, as shown above, really allows you to explore the image you’re working on and to push it to its limits. The end results are well worth the time spent to get there.
We’re just really beginning to delve into all that we can do with these wonderful new plugins in our tool-belt here! I’ll be the first to admit we’re probably only scratching the very surface of the algorithms included in the Topaz Labs suite of tools, and that by exploring these features using varied subjects and conditions we will continue to be amazed at the work produced. We’re planning on trying out the Topaz Labs DeNoise plugin and writing about that as well, as this is yet another area I’ve had challenges with in my imagery and based on a few minutes spent looking at the Topaz Labs offering I can readily see that it, too, is a very powerful tool capable of delivering on its promises.
With all this said, it should come as no surprise that we’ve formed an affiliate relationship with the great folks at Topaz Labs. The new Topaz Detail™ 3 plugin is available right now for $39.99 on their site, a very reasonable cost considering the power and control you get for this. They really have the ability to transform the job of post-processing, turning work into play.
Thanks for your kind visit today, please feel free to leave any comments or questions you may have below. Also, please do stay tuned for more reviews and tutorials using these new tools as we spend time creating our art and exploring the incredible features now found at our fingertips.